This comment is prompted by the above from the BBC News website: ‘Scottish election 2021: Many manifestos, but for what?’ written by Douglas Fraser, BBC Scotland Business/economy editor.
I offer these extracts from a section entitled: “What difference can Holyrood make anyway? Mr Fraser argues: “The answer to that DEPENDS ON YOUR ATTITUDE to independence.” (my emphasis) So for Mr Fraser it would seem that ‘ATTITUDE’ trumps the actual legal powers given and withheld under the terms of the devolved settlement!
And then he adds: “ THERE’S A LOT THAN CAN BE DONE AT HOLYROOD, and done differently. Reforming business rates, for instance.”
So of all the key levers that are available to manage/transform an advanced western economy, this is the one factor he opts to highlight. Is that really the best economic lever available to the Scottish Parliament and Government that Mr Fraser can come up with?
He goes on: “And A LOT OF ECONOMIC LEVERS AT WESTMINSTER SHAPE THE ECONOMY IN SCOTLAND . You emphasise what can be done, and what can’t, according to political TASTE”
Let’s look at what this ‘A LOT’ actually amounts to: (i) to be in or out of the worlds biggest single market; (ii) trade policy; (iii) immigration policy; (iv) labour market policy; (v) key factors still in personal taxation; (vi) all corporate taxation; (vii) VAT rates; (viii) monetary policy; (ix) unlimited government borrowing; and (x) central bank quantitative easing – I could go on and on.
Now let’s weigh all this against Mr Fraser’s top tip for changing the Scottish economy that is within the gift of the Scottish Government – business rates reform! Butter Mr Fraser it’s just a matter of TASTE how one assesses the balance of power and influence between Holyrood and Westminster!
There is more: “Holyrood can allocate funds, but doesn’t determine the SCALE of them or when they’re withdrawn. That’s for Downing Street.”
But hey – there’s still a lot than can be done at Holyrood isn’t there – even though Westminster actually controls scale and availability of public expenditure? There’s business rates reform – is that not enough to be going on with?
And then we have Mr Fraser seeming almost to suggest that independence supporters shouldn’t worry our little heads about where government power resides in the UK because actually key levers are held elsewhere anyway:
“But be careful of the idea that the levers of economic power, spending and tax can be pulled by one government or another, and things happen. It’s not that simple.” (Let’s leave the patronising tone to one side!)
He tells us: “There’s so much more that cannot be controlled; the impact of global economic forces, business investment decisions, consumer sentiment, social change, and new, disruptive technologies. Government, whether Holyrood or Westminster, can only hope to steer a course through economic waters that can sometimes be very turbulent. Now is one of those times.”
So Holyrood can steer reforms of business rates whilst Westminster steers using the levers of most fiscal, all monetary, all trade, all immigration etc. etc. policies? And it’s not really all that important because …!